This is “Developing Ads”, section 14.3 from the book Writers' Handbook (v. 1.0). For details on it (including licensing), click here.

For more information on the source of this book, or why it is available for free, please see the project's home page. You can browse or download additional books there. To download a .zip file containing this book to use offline, simply click here.

Has this book helped you? Consider passing it on:
Creative Commons supports free culture from music to education. Their licenses helped make this book available to you. helps people like you help teachers fund their classroom projects, from art supplies to books to calculators.

14.3 Developing Ads

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand purposes for ads.
  2. Recognize formats and components for ads.
  3. Realize what audiences expect from ads.

Advertising is an ever-changing form of persuasion that reaches us through every conceivable medium: print, radio, television, cinema, public space, and the Internet. Regardless of how they reach us, ads use rhetorical techniques to catch our attention. As consumers we are well aware of the power of effective advertising, and elsewhere in this handbook, especially in Chapter 1 "Writing to Think and Writing to Learn", Chapter 2 "Becoming a Critical Reader", Chapter 3 "Thinking through the Disciplines", and Chapter 4 "Joining the Conversation", you will find material on how to read advertisements as persuasive texts, but this section is more about producing than consuming ads. You don’t have to be a professional advertising copywriter to have the need or occasion to make ads. The guidelines shown in the following lists can apply to any medium.

Typical Purposes for Ads

  • to sell
  • to persuade
  • to inform

Typical Formats for Ads

  • inviting visual layout
  • brief main headings
  • subheadings if needed (often not used in ads)
  • color used for interest without being overwhelming
  • ample white space to avoid a cluttered look
  • font sizes based on audience needs
  • a maximum of two fonts
  • digital, paper, or other media

Typical Audience Expectations for Ads

  • ads that require little or no work to view
  • ads that load quickly
  • ads that can be read in no more than a couple of seconds
  • font that can easily be read at typical distance
  • message that is apparent at a glance
  • message that tests personal logic or challenges conventional wisdom
  • enough information for easy follow-up

Typical Components of Ads

  • main slogan or position presented in about seven words or fewer (often using only key words, not complete sentences)
  • power wordsA word that draws emotions (e.g., free, easy, exciting, delicious). that draw emotions, such as free, easy, exciting, and delicious
  • terms not used in similar ads
  • relevant images that can carry a message with only a few accompanying words
  • images that will load quickly in digital ads
  • explanation of value of featured product, service, or idea
  • information about purchasing or learning more
  • company or institution name

Key Takeaways

  • Regardless of medium, ads all require the same basic design techniques.
  • Purposes for ads include to sell, to persuade, and to inform.
  • Ad formats include a visual layout with a heading, color, white space, and one or two fonts.
  • Audiences expect the message of an ad to be apparent at a glance with little or no work on their part, without having to wait for anything to upload or having to read much. Even though audiences do not want to expend effort to get the message from an ad, they nonetheless evaluate the ad, if only on a subliminal level.
  • An ad typically includes seven or fewer power words that draw on viewers’ emotions and aren’t used in other similar ads, as well as an image that can carry the message with only the help of the few words. An ad also typically includes positive features of the product, service, or idea and information about purchasing or learning more.


  1. Select three existing ad campaigns in a specific product area and evaluate the campaigns based on the criteria presented in this section.
  2. Make up an imaginary fourth brand in the same product area you studied in Question 1 and design an advertising campaign to promote your brand.
  3. Study how a single brand is marketed differently across several media or several markets. Come up with a campaign for an existing brand that extends it into a new medium or a new market.